You can get easily lost in the constant changing dining shuffle here in NYC. One minute its Poke, another minute its Ramen, and before you know it, Sabra joints popping up all over like.. well, Sabra. When Balaboosta first opened 7 years ago, it was quite the welcoming menu featuring refreshing Middle Eastern and north African fare not so easily available elsewhere. But today, with places like Nur, Timna, Taboon, and even Balaboosta’s hipper sister Bar Bolonat, this once perfect housewife (the meaning of Balaboosta) seems a little lost, neglected, disowned by the family and left in a nursing home in Idaho
After all these visits to the Einat Admoni empire (Taim, Bar Bolonat, Balaboosta), I’ve never seen her pink scooter parked in the front which also means I’ve never actually met her. She strikes me as a very busy celebrity chef nowadays, promoting, cooking, touring, pink scooter racing, etc, etc. There’s nothing unusual about establishments running themselves like well oiled machines. But one cant help but wonder if this one requires a little more attention these days.
Take the current menu for example. You have usual classics like the cauliflower that pretty much started the Israeli cauliflower trend all over town. The hummus that makes me question my stance on chunky vs creamy every time I eat it. A perfectly tender octopus that defines smokiness. And a taste of Israeli street food, chicken and merguez in a pita with that mango-ish Amba sauce normally poured on shawarmas. The appetizers here are solid for the most part and set the tone
But unfortunately the excitement stops there. There are places out there that make me want to come back and try every single entree on the menu, and then there are those where I struggle to pick two. If you remove the first item (“Syrian Pasta ‘Rishta’) you are essentially staring at you average “New American” menu. Two fish dishes, chicken, brisket, lamb burger, and a skirt steak. Some come with small hints (“Israeli couscous”) that you are inside an Israeli/Middle Eastern/Mediterranean establishment. My super picky mother-in-law and the entire Joy Suck Club can have a field day with this menu. Maybe thats the idea. Remove the exotica, and make it as Balaboosta friendly as possible, where NYU students can bring their Bridge and Tunnel parents (I am one, and yes it is a thing) to finally meet that new boyfriend.
On this Saturday night, even the two specials were both appetizers. We settled on the chicken and Branzino. The boneless chicken was tender alright, with crispy skin that blended nicely with flesh, but got progressively duller. The Branzino was cooked well (hard to screw it up), but flavors not very distinct or different than what we grill at home once a month. We wanted at least one fish dish and that was the only one served whole. My friend enjoyed her skirt steak, while her partner was struggling with the lamb burger. And for dessert the Knafeh didnt seem as eventful as last time around. An enjoyable meal nonetheless, but I think I’ll stick to the younger hipper sister for the time being
214 Mulberry St (Spring/Prince), Nolita
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Octopus, Hummus, Cauliflower, Israeli Street Food